Highlights of my ministry

WAPELLA METHODIST CHURCH (Central Illinois Conference)  1957-1959

Details of this experience can be found elsewhere.  The church was very difficult, as they had voted to become Baptist, but remained Methodist when they discovered they didn’t own the building. A college professor recruited me to do pastoral calling and youth work the first year (not under appointment), predicting, correctly, that in one year they would ask for me to be the pastor.  He was correct and they did.

The next year I was actually appointed as the pastor (1958-1959). I had a choice betwee coasting or working very hard.  I worked very hard:  900 pastoral calls in one year, working very part time.

ST. JAMES METHODIST CHURCH, DANVILLE, ILLINOIS  (1959-1962)

My title was Minister to Youth and my employment covered my time at Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary).  I worked with Senior Pastor Dr. Paul Curry and Associate Pastor Leonard Sutton.  It was a wonderful experience.  I didn’t have to work with the Official Board (governing committee) and there were 100 active youth in the programs of the church.  I learned lots.  Dr. Curry allowed me to preach many times and my youth honored me in the last year by arranging for me to speak at the graduation baccalaureate.

MOOSE PASS CIRCUIT (Alaska)   Summer 1961

St. James allowed me to spend the summer of 1961 in Alaska as a summer furlough replacement for Benjamin Laird.  There were four groups and three churches: on Sunday I had a service at Moose Pass;  on Monday I had a service at Girdwood; on Tuesday I met in a house church at Cooper Landing at the south end of Kenai Lake; finishing on Wednesday at Hope.  Often I would stay in Hope for a day or two, organizing repairs and upgrades on the 1944 log building there.  Hope became a favorite place over the years, as the church eventually became a retreat center.  This is also covered in more detail elsewhere.  I was also expected to be a volunteer at Birchwood Camp, which took two weeks out of my summer.

KENAI PARISH

MY NOTES: Ben Blastus Obolla (African student sponsored by Methodist Men), Construction of Tustumena Chuch; Kenai-Soldotna Conflict; David Cooper story; Calvin Fair Family; Military Fire; Earthquake reflections; Soldotna Progress Days (Horse B.I.N.G.O.); Clam Feeds; Ministerial Association

When I was asked to return to Alaska full-time, I was slated to be the Associate Pastor at Ketchikan.  However, I fell in love and Barbara Dadd Shaffer not only agreed to marry me, but also to return to Alaska with me.  St. James had offered me a full-time job as Minister of Evangelism, but I decided to go to Alaska for three years.  The plan was to return after three years and Barbara would have completed her seminary degree.  That never happened.

The Superintendent changed my appointment to the Kenai Parish (two for the price of one?) and the rest is history, so to speak.  Without going into great details, four families in the Kenai Church had been very close to the former pastor, sharing baby-sitting and more.  They were not able to adjust to this particular change for many reasons. Our first year at Kenai was very difficult.  Life was wonderful in the other two churches, so that helped.

We drove 100 miles each Sunday, doing three worship services and three chuch schools. In three years, we put 100,000 miles on the Rambler provided by the Board of Missions.  In fact, we picked the car up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and drove it from Illinois to Seattle.  A honeymoon paid for by the General Board of Missions.  Thank you very much.

The United Methodist Men of the parish were very active.  It involved about thirty men.  They decided to sponsor a student from Kenya for his senior year of high school.  This was expanded to include a college degree at Alaska Methodist University.  So Ben Blastus Oballa of Kenya was brought to Alaska by United Methodist Men for his Senior year of High School.  Because of racist issues, he had to attend the prom by himself.  After graduation, he attended and graduated from Alaska Methodist University.  When we visited Kenya in 1971 we made arrangements to visit with him in Nairobi.  His dream of being a leader in his country did not materialize because of tribal tensions.   He worked for a multi-national company and died much too young.

Highlights included programs for the Parish United Methodist Men. This included participating in a Men’s Conference in Anchorage that attracted national figures such as Jackie Robinson of baseball fame, Episcopal Bishop James Pike and Quaker Elton Trueblood. Our parish meetings attracted as many as 30 men for a dinner and program.

One time Alaska Methodist University professor Dr. Richard Gay came to speak to the group and at a meal in our home, he noted I was reading a book. He noted I had underlined one paragraph and he asked why.  I didn’t have a clue and he quoted the paragraph from memory.  I still didn’t have a clue.  Impressive display of photographic memory.

We coordinated the construction of the Tustumena Church.  It was built on pilings right next to the Tustumena School, half-way between Kenai and Ninilchik. Prior to that we met in homes or a quonset hut at Clam Gulch.  Six very faithful families.

There was a serious conflict between Kenai and Soldotna.  Each wanted to dominant the area economically.  Kenai was several miles from the main highway from Anchorage to Homer, but every time there was new activities, there was a political fight.  When new area-wide government was created (called a borough), Soldotna got the offices.  After all of the bitter conflict, Soldotna got most of the items:  Kenai Peninsula College, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District offices and the Central Peninsula Hospital is in Soldotna.  Fighting produced a win-lose scenario.  We will never know what cooperation might have accomplishd.  One of my successors at Kenai was so afraid of the anger in Kenai that they had their baby delivered in an Anchorage hospital, 160 road miles away, and not in the Soldotna hospital, 10 miles away.  When I was there, I even had the nerve or gall to preach on the issue one Sunday.  Little feedback, so I don’t know what it accomplished.  Probably the folks from Soldotna loved it and the folks from Kenai endured it.  It didn’t change any attitudes or behaviors, based on subsequent history.

While I was there, Dr. Paul Isaak started the process and invited the Mayor of Kenai, Bud Dye, to be on the Board of Directors.  Agreeing to do this proved to be too hot for Mayor Dye, so he resigned.  I was then asked to serve on the Board, representing Kenai.  I left town shortly thereafter, but I don’t think there was any causitive connection.  Who knows?  The reality is that appointments tended to be for 3 years then and I left after 3 years.   But five families were probably glad to see me go.

I was not afraid to stand up to bullies (and there were one or two in the Kenai congregation), so who knows what goes on behind the scenes.  Except for the gambling issue in Soldotna, I did a great deal to grease the skids for the formation of the Soldotna Methodist Church, the Central Peninsula Hospital and much more.  At his direction, I assisted Mission Superintendent Meredith Groves in purchasing land for a future Soldotna parsonage and church north of the Spur area. This work did not require the consent of the Kenai Church.  As of 2017, the Kenai Church has 69 members and the Soldotna Church has 75 members.  The average attendance at Kenai was 37 and the average at Soldotna was 47.

Even now, there would probably be resistance to the idea of sharing the same pastor.  I do not follow such things closely.

On November 1, 1964, I preached a sermon titled “Anti-Communism and American Freedom”.  At the next Official Board meeting, a constituent of the congregation came to protest my sermon.  In the course of the meeting, he asked if he could request equal time to correct the damage I had done.  After a pause, I said “Yes”.  Eventually he realized I had just answered his question.  So he then said:  “May I have equal time?”  And I said “No”.  I softened it by offering him one page in a church newsletter to state his case, but he refused. He was not a person to be brief, which was only one of many reason I didn’t offer him the pulpit.  Fun times.

Now to share the David Cooper Jr. of Ninilchik story.  He was a Junior in High School. Due to conflict with his father, David Cooper Sr, he came to live with us for awhile, but after a few weeks with us, he realized that home was not so bad. I attempted to run a tight ship.  He had just started to notice girls and after several years of running free, he didn’t like restrictions from his father or from me.  After resisting sharing where he was going with friends, I insisted that he at least tell me what direction he was going, to aid me in looking for his body, if he should not return home sometime.

Calvin and Jane Fair drove many miles to church, even in difficult weather. Another family won’t walk one block in the same weather.

There was a fatal fire on the Wildwood Military Base. I provided pastoral care and walked with a distraught father while he dealt with his grief over the loss of his children.  He was very angry with God and I was concerned about potential suicide, so I walked with him in some very cold weather for a period of time.  Mostly I listened.  It was not the time to tell him that God was not responsible for the death of his children. He had broken base rules at leaving underage children untended while he and his wife were “enjoying” themselves at a drinking establishment.  I was called by the base commander because the chaplain was not available.

We also dealt with the aftermath of the Great Earthquake of 1964. It registered 9.2 on the Recter Scale.  We lost $.67 worth of stuff, but I held the doors of cabinets to save our new china.  Over 100 people died in the entire State of Alaska and I had the difficult task of conducting a funeral for five members of one family who disappeared at Whittier.  It was very complicated, even more so because no bodies were ever found after the tidal wave hit.

When we arrived in 1962, there was tension with a few Kenai families who were unhappy losing the former pastor. It was “trial by fire” for a newly married couple.  My predecessor did not do pastoral calling, but when he agreed to stay for a few more weeks while Barbara and I got married and traveled to Kenai, he and his wife called on many people.  She cried and they communicated that they didn’t really want to leave.  It did not make for a good situation for us.

One Sunday at Tustumena, a man named Mr. Miller was angry at something he heard in my sermon. At the Adult Sunday School class everyone told him that I had not said what he thought he heard. He backed off, but he was still very angry.

Mission Executive Allen Rice was driven from Kenai to Seward by Barbara on icy roads. Some one had not tighten the lug nuts on a tire, but Barbara stopped at a service station in Soldotna and they fixed it.

One summer I blew the whistle on an illegal gambling scheme for the Soldotna Progress Days. Using B.I.N.G.O. cards, there was to be gambling on horse racing. The promoters cancelled the entire fair and blamed me for their decision.

Near the end of our stay, there was a major fire at a hotel under construction one block from our home. Because of our bedroom location and no windows on the north side of the house, we slept right through it.

Ninilchik United Methodist Church sponsored a razor clam feed as a fundraiser. Barbara was assigned the job of making six pies. She learned to make wonderful pies.

I attempted to create a Ministerial Association with fifteen members. When I invited the Catholic priest to attend (after Vatican II), some ministers objected. The Assembly of God pastor came to me afterwards and shared that being in the same room with a priest praying put a pain in his stomach. We were left with only five members in the group.

Barbara and I were willing to stay in Alaska, so I asked the Bishop if he wanted us to stay and he indicated that he did.  He couldn’t understand why so many pastors left after three years.  Problem:  there was no communication on that particular subject.  I learned to be pro-active with such issues.  Others did not. Being pro-active served me well several times.

UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF CHUGIAK AND BIRCHWOOD CAMP

MY NOTES:  Camp-Lost Children episode (Lori Staats); Abused 12 year old from Kansas and Seward; Trash event with Loren Rodebush; Fish experience.   Church-Built new sanctuary; O.W. Lowe Sr. episode; hikes to Eklutna Glacier; Cross Event and working with Community Action Agency (Johnson’s War on Poverty).

Accomplishment:  Changing name so the focus was on the United Methodist Church and not on the physical location, as we attempted to attract people from Eagle River, Birchwood, Chugiak and Peter’s Creek.  Name stuck.  Don’t know if it worked.  We decided not to start an United Methodist Church in Eagle River and the Presbyterians came instead.  Opportunity missed, in my opinion.

Lost children episode: One time I was told to pick up two Fairbanks children at the Birchwood Crossing.  I assumed that was the crossing near our camp, but was supposed to be a crossing several miles away near the Birchwood Airport.  No one met the children, so naturally they told their parents and he never forgave me.  Lori Staats was one of those children.  A Good Samaritan picked them up and brought them to safety.

In 1961 there was an abused child who came to camp from Seward.  He was 12 years old and his back was scarred.  He had ran away from his home in Kansas and ended up in Seward.  When other campers teased him, he took a stick of wood and hit another boy over the head and then ran away from camp.  By some miracle I found him and prevented the boy who had been hit from taking revenge.

Being responsible for the railroad crossing, I put up a barrier, which a nearby neighbor resented.  He would knock down what I put up.  Finally I got something stronger than his truck and was able to identify him from the paint on the pipe.  He was a very violent man who made his children steal from his neighbors and then he would threaten the neighbors when they objected.  Being very brave (not), I never interacted with him directly.  When one of his older children was arrested for armed robbery of a lumber yard in Anchorage, he disowned his son (for getting caught??).  When I visited that son in jail, he was very sad.

Some one was dumping trash on the camp road.  I went through the trash very carefully and discovered from whence it came.  Since it was not from the violent man, I decided to confront the culprit.  I took along Loren Rodebush, our camp caretaker, who was very big & wearing his military uniform.  When I got to the home, there was a party.  I knocked and the owner denied all responsibility for the crime.  With Loren at my back, I said I wasn’t there to determine guilt, but I merely wanted to know whether or not he wanted me to place the garbage in his garbage can or if he wanted me to leave it in his yard, like he did on our camp road.  He chose his garbage can.  End of dumping.  I was very brave with Loren standing behind and above me.

While at Chugiak, we built a new sanctuary.  Lay members Harold Abrams (in charge of new construction for all of the military bases in Alaska) and Stan Nickerson provided tremendous lay leadership for the project. Harold Abrams would stop each evening to check on progress on his way home from his Civil Service job.  Wonderful people.

The architect (to save money) had gotten beams that were a bit rough and he wished to stain them a light green.  One member (O. W. Lowe, Jr.) thought this was a terrible idea. When he could not convince anyone else, he lost his temper, announced he would never attend the church again and stormed out of the meeting.  Later I went to his home and told him that he was a valued person.  This took until the wee hours of the morning.  He stayed.  Several years later (at least 30 years) he and his second wife visited us in Spokane, Washington. He could hardly contain himself until he informed me that the beams had been sanded and they were now their natural color.  He finally got his own way.

While picking on O. W. Lowe, Jr., he could get a whole chapter by himself. Every year he went on an extensive moose hunt that involved floating down a river. The year his wife was very ill (she did die), the church took up a cash love offering so he could do a fly-in and get his moose in one day.  I was dispatched to give him the gift.  He became very angry and rejected the gift.  He was very independent and self-sufficient and did not need charity.  I returned to my home and then I became very irritated, if not angry.  I was faced with having to return all the cash gifts.  So I went back to his home and told him that he owned it to his friends to take the gift in the spirit they were giving it.  He very quietly accepted my argument and took the money and had his one day hunt.

When the new church was built (over built), I tried to use ropes to encourage (force) people to sit closer to the front.  Bill came into the space, ripped down the ropes and said some strong words.  Turns out that in his childhood, someone had tried to control where people sat in a New England Church, so it wasn’t going to happen in “his” church.  Perhaps out of guilt (who knows), one Sunday he encouraged everyone to sit on the front rows.  When I entered from the side door, I pretended to be very shocked.  Lots of laughter.  It never happened again.

We often drove to the end of Lake Eklutna and hiked to Eklutna Glacier.  However, it became too dangerous.  After the 1964 earthquake, when land shifted, small rock projectiles would come crashing off the surrounding mountains.  One time I allowed some children to play on the glacier and frozen river.  Two weeks later I returned and the cave where they had played was now a roaring stream of water.  We never returned.

A young man came to our church and offered to build a cross.  He also built one at St. John.  I found a spot below the church where the cross could be built and we held a few services there.

I decided to buy a fish net and hire some Eskimo friends to fish across Knik Arm with them getting 1/2 of the catch and me getting 1/2 the catch.  I provided the money and they provided the labor.  The first year the power went off at the camp and the fish spoiled.  The second year, thieves took all the fish.  That was when we realized we need a camp caretaker and hired Loren and Julia Rodebush for that position.  But I didn’t try to get fish again.

While at Chugiak I got involved in the programs related to President Johnson’s War on Poverty and became President of the Greater Anchorage Community Action Agency.  It was a very interesting experience.  One very pushy member was trying to get me to recognize me and he stood on his chair.  I still ignored him.

This gave me some name recognition.  So when a member of the John Birch Society was getting name recognition and doing better in each election, I decided to run against him for the State House of Representatives.  With the permission of an interim Bishop, I had plans “in case I got elected”.  I didn’t, but I was able to derail the efforts of the John Birch Society member.  In the 1966 election, he had made it through the primary.  In 1968, he did not.  I ran 35th out of 49 candidates for 28 positions on the final ballot.   Fourteen to be elected.  But I ran 3rd in the Eagle River-Chugiak area when we lived.  Who knows what might have happened if I had run again in 1970, but we will never know.  I was transferred to Juneau as a pastor.

JUNEAU-DOUGLAS LARGER PARISH

When I was appointed to both Juneau and Douglas in my second year, there was some pressure for us to move to the Douglas parsonage.  We refused.  So the Douglas parsonage was rented.  One Coast Guard family rented it for awhile. One day the father indicated to me that there was no heat in the 2nd floor of the parsonage.  On cold nights, his children had to camp (sleep) in the living room.  At least one of the trustees implied that this was impossible.  None of the former pastors had complained.  So I checked with several former pastors and all verified they had had that problem with their children.  But did they ever tell anyone?  No.  Perhaps they didn’t want to deal with the hostility of some of the trustees.  For whatever reason, I didn’t have that concern.  They were already hostile for one reason or another.  The problem was corrected.

There was consistent hostility from some members at Douglas, so it almost became humorous. Business meetings were not pleasant experiences.  But we all survived in the end.  Two families were very supportive and helped me navigate the situation.

While in Juneau, I became a leader of the anti-war movement.  I was not radical enough for the radicals in the peace movement, but any participation was too much for the other side, so it was a wild ride.  It was interesting that I had 100% support from many members of the older generation.  At one point, some members of that group wanted to block the Egan Expressway at rush hour as a protest against the war.  I objected and since I would lead the action, it never happened.  But I was rejected by many members and I resigned from my position of leadership.  So for awhile, both extremes were angry with me.

In 1971 Barbara and I took a seven week trip to Africa and the Holy Land.  Seven laypersons (men) filled the pulpit, most talking about the balance between evangelism and social action.  Attendance was high during my absence.

While we were traveling, plans were made for sponsoring a Lay Witness Mission.  When I left, there were plans to have two of them:  one in Douglas and one in Juneau. When I returned, they had decided to have them together, alternating locations.  When I reminded them that they had voted to be separate, one woman said that the Holy Spirit prevailed over the vote and indeed it did.

During the Lay Witness Mission, one speaker asked us to imagine that the rock in his hand was God and we were to pick up the rock and share our reaction.  Eventually one man took the rock, announced that the rock was not God and slammed it on the altar table and stomped out of the church.  Later in the evening, I made a pastoral call and told him of my disappointment in his actions.  He repented and life went on.

Some of the liberals in the Juneau Church boycotted the Lay Witness Mission worship services and then called me to a gathering which was considering leaving the church.  They asked me “what happened”?  I told them about some of the positive changes in people and when I was finished, the group quietly disbanded without any further discussion.

We enjoyed a spirit of cooperation between the two congregations for a brief period of time, but the decision of the State of Alaska to take the Juneau Church property soon ended that spirit.

I inherited the Juneau Youth Hostel when I came to Juneau (it was in its second year when I arrived), but I spent a lot of energy defending it from critics.  I even grew my beard longer to offset the nasty comments the police chief and others made about bearded hippies.  At some point there was a drug raid that included the hostel, but of the 19 people arrested, none were at the youth hostel.  I got into a war of words with the District Attorney, but I got a promise from the Chief of Police that they would behave better in the future.

In the midst of all of this (our church was never locked) a rape occurred in the church sanctuary, so there was a lot going on.  I monitored the trial.  When the victim (who had been flirtatious and drinking) learned what the prison sentence would be, she refused to cooperate.  As the young man left the courtroom a free man, I had a few choice words with him and a few accused me of finding him guilty.  Well, he was guilty and he put the youth hostel at great risk.  What I did with the young man was give him some hotel money and request that he not step foot on our property again, unless it was to attend a worship service.  He didn’t.

When we took steps to finally lock our church at night, we couldn’t find the key.  As we shut down the church property and turned it over to the State of Alaska, it was important to secure the building.  On at least one occasion, I allowed a homeless man live in the church for a few weeks.  He was very responsible and helpful, for which I was and am grateful.

The State of Alaska took our property by right of imminent domain to build a courthouse and we lost our church.  The decision was made to merge with Northern Light Presbyterian to form the Northern Light United Church.  Barbara and I returned for the 40th anniversary of that church and found it to be thriving.

But the experience destroyed all the warm fuzzies from the Lay Witness Mission.  The Juneau Church was divided, voting to merge with the Presbyterians by a very narrow margin.  In fact, my vote decided the issue.  I came very close to a nervous breakdown (depression?), but whatever happened, I was dysfunctional for one week after the vote.

But then I kicked into a gear that made it all happen.  Two women at Douglas became very vicous, but they were unsuccessful at changing anything.  They wanted access to some of the money Juneau received from the forced sale of the property.  Juneau had been offered $120,000 for the property.  The trial produced an increase to $180,000 and the state had to pay our $30,000 lawyer cost.

The lawyer for the State of Alaska thought he had some inside information from one of the United Methodist church members and he called me a liar when I was on the witness stand.  This made the judge upset, plus I had a letter in my pocket from the Governor of the State of Alaska that proved I had told the truth on the witness stand.  It was a good day.  One could speculate as to why I had that letter in my suit pocket, but I was glad it was there.

One of the things I learned at Douglas was that new ideas needed to percolate for at least one month.  Some of the program ideas didn’t happen until after I left – like having some concern for the lower income families in our community.

Separate from all issues was the sponsorship of the Juneau Youth Hostel.  It was housed in the Methodist Church and it was switched to the new united church, but it was a source of much heart-burn for the Presbyterians.  They believed some of the mis-information that had been published in the local newspaper.  Many believed that arrests had been made at the hostel during the drug raid.  Even though the newspaper wrote a clarifying article, some chose to belief the mis-information.  People are sometimes funny in a strange sort of way.

Some one at the Board of Global Ministries office in New York City made a claim for the $180,000 unless we reinvested it in Juneau property.  Within a short period of time, we purchased the Whitehead House (one of the better homes in the downtown area). I had some thought of it being a parsonage, but that didn’t happen.  It was a Teen Home for awhile and eventually it was sold to the American Youth Hostel group in Juneau and it continues as a Youth Hostel to this day (2020).  Sadly, the fire marshall made us tear out the cedar that lined the closets.

When Northern Light Presbyterian Church and Juneau United Methodist Church merged, I lobbied for the new name to be Northern Light United Church, which made the Presbyterians so happy that they offered to pray the Lord’s Prayer the Methodist way. It became obvious that both pastors needed to move on, so that new and fresh leadership could be found.  I accepted this decision, but the Presbyterian pastor fought it. That didn’t make the transition very pleasant, but it happened.

One of my tasks, while in Juneau, was providing leadership for the S.E. Alaska Camp, which was called the Argetsinger Camp on my watch. Lots of physical energy was spent keeping it maintained.  With the help of a wonderful young adult named Ladd Macaulay, we were able to turn the camp over to the school district for their Outdoor Education Program, operated by Ladd Macaulay.  Again, several persons objected, but it happened.  One of the first things the school district did was upgrade the kitchen at significant cost (Memory $100,000)  After a year or so, the School District decided to punish the voters (who rejected a bond issue) by shutting down their two most popular programs.  This was pre-school and outdoor education.  The camp came back to the Methodists.  No one ever thanked me for the brand new kitchen.

COMMUNITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, NOME, ALASKA (1974-1981)                  NOME PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (1975-1981)                                                                                     (together) AYWAAN BERING SEA LARGER PARISH, along with Savoonga Presbyterian Church and Gambell Presbyterian Church with both on St. Lawrence Island.

This is dealt with elsewhere, but we were there for seven years.  Both of us were very busy, but Barbara was even busier.  She had many positions while we were in Nome:  Executive Director, Nome Community Center (half a year):  Special Assistant to the Governor for NW Alaska (2 1/2 years) and Member of the Nome Common Council (City Council) (3 years).

EAST ANCHORAGE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH  (1981-1988)

When it was time for us to leave Nome, there was only one opening and we received it:  East Anchorage United Methodist Church.  It was next door to the Chugiak-Eagle River Parish, but separated by a military base.  I decided not to be a public advocate for much of anything, so it was a quiet seven years, for the most part.

I would try to have a creative sermon at least once a year and it always stirred things up.  During my seven years there, I had a sermon on Capital Punishment and South Africa.  One woman asked for a “hearing” on my preaching.  Only ten people showed up, but she found out that most people appreciated the stimulation of such sermons, rare as they might be.  It was obvious that a few wanted zero stimulation.  By this time in my ministry, I was able to convince many that I was open to listening to their points of view and this served me well.

I tried very hard to make the church grow and failed.  There was a very large trailer court near by and during my time there, one family tried our church.  I attempted to open up a dead-end street south of our church and came under attack from neighbors who liked their semi-private road. I learned that some participants liked a small church, so they resisted the idea of growth.  The church had an average worship attendance of 100 when I was there.  When the church celebrated its 50th anniversary, the bishop came and shared in closing the church.  Attendance had dropped to 25 or so.

I volunteered to “take care of” the Hope Retreat Center and spent many pleasant days there.  My members thought I was working and all was well.

After seven years at East Anchorage, I applied for a Charles Merrill Fellowship at Harvard and was accepted.  Meanwhile, there was a crisis at a church in Sitka and I was transferred there in 1988.

UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF SITKA  1988-1995

Barbara was at General Conference with her work with General Council on Finance and Administration (two 4 year terms) and I was helping Gania Trotter staff a hospitality room for Alaska Pacific University.  One day the District Superintendent called me. We knew what was coming and agreed to accept the appointment to Sitka.

The couple at Sitka had a marital crisis and the Bishop wanted us to provide some stability for the congregation as they weathered the storm.  It was much more difficult than I could ever have imagined.  I had studied the issue of transference in psychology.  We experienced it.  Imagine going to a new congregation and saying “Oh, by the way, we are taking three months off in our first year for continuing education at Harvard.”  We got through it all and some healing eventually came for members and the church.

When we returned from our sabbatical, we started Disciple Bible Study.

I was asked to assist Sheldon Jackson College by teaching World Religions for two quarters. I got rave reviews.  It may have helped that all students (except for one) got A’s and B’s.  Don’t know where I got the idea, but on the first day, I passed out a copy of the final exam.

We enjoyed a new sanctuary that had been built by the members.

After seven happy years there, we felt it was time to leave Alaska.  Ketchikan wanted a younger pastor and I was no longer young.  Hostile administrators were not going to do me any favors.

I asked the Bishop if there might be a place for me in the Pacific Northwest Conference and he assured me that he would find a place. He was true to his word.

MANITO UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, SPOKANE, WASHINGTON

MY NOTES:  Snow storm; ice storm, history relating to Kirtland Cutter, AHA!!!!, Squirrels, Pigeons and 15 tons & what do you get? – 5 foot clearance for storage.

This was a wonderful appointment for us.  They thought I was young.  The superintendent had told them I was old.  When I discovered the she was the same age as myself, I never let her forget it.  I showed up for the interview with three guns, storing them at her house.  Just for the record, I no longer own the guns.

The sanctuary had been designed by famed architect Kirtland Cutter.  It was his last job in Spokane, but he built many mansions on the south hill.

The Christian Education wing was massive and very good for community service.  Pre-school, counseling service and emergency housing all were or became part of our service to the community.  My plan was to stay there seven years and retire, but I changed my mind and asked for another appointment, which I received.  The helpful bishop was elsewhere and the cabinet was not in the mood to do me any favors.  I was moved immediately.

Not really a highlight, but as soon as I arrived, I was hit by the church’s decision to remove the American Flag from the sanctuary.  A military veteran wanted me to return it to the sanctuary.  Since it was a decision of the Administrative Council, I refused to do so.

While at Manito, I was able to go to a sermon resource conference in Canada that published AHA!!!  It was very stimulated and impacts my preaching.

I had a battle with resident squirrels at the parsonage, so I trapped them and transported them to a welcoming forest 25 miles away, until the owner said:  “Enough!”  The issue at the church were pigeons in the tower, so that was corrected with some screening.

At some point, some walls had been knocked down and the gym floor was raised to ground level for the fellowship hall.  Underneath the fellowship hall, in a five foot crawl space.  So I removed fifteen tons of debris (with some help on one occasion from members of Americorp) and produced a five foot clearance area for storage.  I did this for exercise on my “days off”.

One of my favorite memories was the day of the “big snow” when it snowed many inches during worship.  With my Toyota truck, I was able to pull cars out of the school parking lot effectively.

Another storm put so much ice in the trees that many broke off 1/3 of the way from the top.  Quite a sight to behold.

One of the stronger programs at Manito was known as “Elderberries”, an older adult group that planned regular activities.  Completely led by others, it was refreshing to be able to participate as a member and not the leaders.  It was also when I learned that the next crop of retirees objected to words that reminded them of the aging process.  So “elder” was a turn-off and the same thing was true at the next church (Stanwood) where the word “silver” in “Silver Sages” turned off some potential participants.  Never solved that problem.

I was having so much fun, I decided not to retire in 2002 and made myself available for one more appointment.  This was arranged by the “cabinet” in just a few weeks.  So quickly, that the “cabinet” failed to appoint my replacement for one full year.  The first two suggested appointments (female) turned them down.  If forgiveness is in order for the person or persons responsible, that has not happened yet.  It was obvious that some members had an agenda that didn’t have much regard for my well-being nor the well-being of the local church.

STANWOOD UNITED METHODIST CHURCH   (2000-2008)

MY NOTES:  At the beginning, issue of inclusion and at the end, issue of human sexuality; during highlights included the 5th Thursday trips and the addition of stained glass.

Having said that I would not accept a smaller church, the cabinet found a church with equal membership to Manito.  Both Manito and Stanwood had 400 members.  When I went for the introduction, the superintendent had no knowledge of my past background, so I quickly supplied some information.

The church was very welcoming and our eight years there were pleasant and productive, after the first year.  Three very conservative families did not appreciate my theology or social stances.  The lay leader “hated” the United Methodist Church.  He had served for eight years.  My pattern was to ask persons to serve in top leadership posts for two years.  When he was removed, the skids were greased for them leaving the church and becoming Free Methodists.

One family provided heavy financial support for James Dobson’s organization known as “Focus on the Family”.  There was an attempt to “fire me”, but when that failed they left the church. One of the themes of my early preaching in Stanwood was the important of “inclusion”.

A fourth family stayed.  Dr. Ed Blair had been my New Testament professor at Garrett and he was satisfied with the content of my preaching.  During my time at Stanwood, I helped celebrate the life of his wife, Vivien.  He put some pressure on me to “come back” and do his service when he died, but I resisted.  When I came as his pastor, he could barely remember me as a student, but by the time I left I was “one of his better students”.   He was a wonderful person.  It was a pleasure being his pastor for eight years.  I helped his intensive library end up at Seattle University.

While serving as the pastor at Stanwood, we had to put on a new roof.  I lobbied for “red”, as lots of people didn’t know we existed.  But I failed, so lots of people still don’t know the church exists.

One humorous member on the “color” committee for something at the church suggested that they send me a telegram in Hawaii:  (containing this message)  “We couldn’t decide on the color, so you must decide.”  I had made it clear that “colors” had been the “bane” of my existence at several churches.  Elsewhere I have shared about the beams at the UMC of Chugiak in Alaska plus there was a big fight about this at Juneau.

That and “worship wars” are not missed by me, now that I am retired.

When we went to Stanwood, there was a van that was not being used.  So I created a program called “5th Thursdays”.  It was essentially a field trip “somewhere” four times a year. It was wonderful for some of the retired members and it forced me to do something creative four times a year.  We did some major field trips to Victoria B.C., Cannon Beach in Oregon, Leavenworth and a play in Vancouver B.C.  Others were small things such as visting a Kangaroo Farm near Arlington or a buffalo farm near Sedro Woolley. If anyone ever expresses an interest, I could probably summarize the 32 things we did in our 8 years at Stanwood.  But first I would have to find my lists.  During my ministry, we were given a small bus that we shared with Josephine.  They kept it running and we got to use it occasionally.

Another highlight was the addition of stained glass windows.  One Sunday while preaching on the value of symbols, it was obvious we didn’t have many, so Chris and Pam Fredericksen arranged for a famous artist (Jack Archibald) to do a window at the entrance of the church.  It was titled “Immanence”. It featured an abstract design on either side of the church entry with bold colors radiating out from a circle. Jack agreed to share some reflection on his work:  “I had an old friend, long gone now, who said, ‘For those who ask no questions, there are no mysteries,’…I think what my friend meant was that life isn’t a riddle, it’s more like music…Immanance is that force, that energy, that spirit, that goodness, that whatever name you want to call it that permeates the world…These windows are small grace notes in the music I hear in a world I do not at all understand. I hope, given their context, they make a joyful noise.” It was a great honor to have Jack share his talents at “breaking glass” with us in this way.

This modern art upset an artist in the church, Jo Hagloch, so she set out to create some realistic art.  She trained seventeen people in the process and we had three beautiful windows in the fellowship hall celebrating blue herons, snow geese and eagles.  When I saw her eagle design, I objected and risked telling her that I wanted an eagle that looked like an eagle, not one mostly in white.  By some miracle, she agreed with me.  The result added a great deal of beauty to our fellowship/worship area.

A member of Rotary (Lew Neelds) did two windows celebrating our early building and our current building.  This was paid for by Kert and Norma Lee Kertson.

Finally a member (Bob) commissioned a window in memory of his wife, by an Everett studio (Covenant Art Glass) that celebrated rhododendrons.  A major addition to the spirit of the church without any budgetary implications.

We also spent some energy on human sexuality issues near the end of my stay in Stanwood.  Then it was off to retirement.

RETIREMENT

MY NOTES:  Reading, Conference Secretary, Volunteer Work, such as Primetimers and driving people to medical appointments, plus Gardening.

We spent the first eight years of our retirement in a lovely home with a view.  In 2016 we move to Wesley: Lea Hill in Auburn, Washington.  For a while I did some driving for Catholic Charities, but it got too complicated.

The Bishop recruited me as the Pacific Northwest Conference Secretary in 2008 and I served for four years.  He asked me right after giving Barbara the Bishop’s Award for her work in the conference.  Not a good time to say no.

When I retired, I was asked to be the “Minister to the Retirees”, which involves helping to plan a retiree luncheon at Annual Conference, edit an occasional newsletter to the retirees and represent the retirees on the Conference Board of Pensions.

I also served on the Conference Older Adult Council, helping with a fall retreat at Lazy F Campground for several years.

Other retirement activities has included reading, traveling and gardening.  I operated an u-pick dahlia garden (400 plants) in Stanwood and now in Auburn I have two garden plots in a community garden, growing miniature pumpkins for Barbara.  One of our churches also recruited me to establish a dahlia garden on their property.

There are four churches that occasionally ask me to preach on a regular basis: Guemes Island Congregational, LaConner United Methodist, Federal Way United Methodist and Auburn First United Methodist.  Otherwise, I enjoy listening to others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QUOTES I LIKE

QUOTES I LIKE

Here are some quotes gathered over the year that had an impact on me. One source is a newsletter I published in the 1980’s for ideas that didn’t fit in the church newsletter, but I wanted to share them with persons in my circle of influence. It was titled SECOND SERMON.

DR. HARRELL BECK of Boston School of Theology (He published very little of his scholarship, saying that he would let his students do the writing of books. One of his students was Martin Luther King Jr.) This quote was given to me in 1986 as I discussed “universalism” with him.

“It is our love for Jesus Christ which mandates our love for persons in whatever tradition or condition. Can’t people get that? Universal salvation is a term which scares people, in part because the church has so often had to have some prey, to be vindictive. What is this psychic need among so many of us? Isn’t it enough to know God’s love, to be grateful for it, and to exercise it as fully as we are capable of doing? And I wonder, whether in the eyes of the Perfect One there is all that (much) difference between those who have made confession/profession and those who have not. Of course I sense the importance of making our profession but not if it cripples us…”

Dr. Beck was married to an Egyptian. Some one once asked Dr. Beck if his wife was a Christian. He paused (dramatically) and said that yes, “she became a Christian about 2,000 years ago.” She was raised in the Coptic Christian heritage, which dates back to shortly after the time of Jesus. Mrs. Leila Beck entertained my wife and I in her home when I was a Merrill Fellow at Harvard Divinity School in 1989. Dr. Beck had died in a doctor’s office as they were preparing for a trip to China. She was very sad, as she had given Dr. Beck to the church for years and years and in retirement, she was hoping to have him for herself. It was not to be. He had spent years giving lectures all over the world and was highly regarded in many circles for his scholarship and speaking ability. When he sensed the need, he would say to his listeners:  “Are you listening? Are you with me?” And usually we were. He was one of the few who could speak for an hour and you still wanted more. His lectures were given in the same style as his preaching. When he died, I felt a great deal of grief. The United Methodist Church lost a giant.

BORN AGAIN

“Being born again is to being a Christian as Kindergarten is to being an educated person.”         -Thomas H. Dahl

Thomas H. Dahl was a colleague in Alaska who made the decision to become a lawyer.  He was the pastor in Homer from 1964-1966 when I was the pastor in Kenai.  Our families would get together several times during the one year we overlapped.  They had small children, so we would usually go to Homer.  One time we went to seafood processing plant in Homer and purchased ten pounds of King Crab legs for $5.  Yum…Yum….  It was so expensive, we thought.

Then Tom was appointed to the Juneau Church from 1966-1969 and it was there that he decided to go to law school.  He played a role in helping to get me appointed as his successor in 1969.  He stayed in Juneau as the Director of the Model Cities Program until he went to law school.  When he came back to Alaska he was in private practice until he was tapped to be an Assistant Attorney General.

A CREED FOR ALL AGES

“I think that evangelicals and liberals can get along quite well as long as evangelicals are willing to admit, as I do, that the evangelical position is only a Christian position and not the Christian position. It is when persons establish a particular theological stance as the only legitimate one to have in order to be part of the household of God that real trouble starts…”            -Dr. Tony Campolo  11/4/85 (quoted with permission by the author) Tony was another person who could speak for one hour and you still wanted more. I got to hear him in Boston (again in 1989) and more recently as a guest at a nearby camp, operated by the Free Methodist Church.

QUOTE from a personal letter dated 10/16/85

“It sounds like you have a little more excitement in your town than we do around here. We don’t have a rabid fundamentalist preacher like the one you describe;…Recently I saw a publication from the International Committee for Biblical Inerrancy. One statement caught my eye. It called for readers of the Bible to be: ‘discriminatory in their reading, to recognize poetry as such, and metaphor as such, that one should not interpret it literally; but take into account the kind of literature one was reading…’ I couldn’t believe my eyes, that sounded like what we were taught at both IWU and Garrett. At that time it was condemned as liberal. My, my, what changes!”

QUOTE from Time

December 2, 1985  p. 84 quoting Lis Harris, NEW YORKER Staff Writer.   “I do not like the Lubavitchers’ rigidity, the absoluteness of right and wrong that they perceived. I consider unsureness to be the proper condition of life.”  (article in Religion section on Hasidim Jews)

Quote from Iowa Bob Williams dated Christmas 1980

Every problem is a real challenge that responds to my best. Never once would parishioners and church officials ever let me either work on obvious, simple, urgent, relevant and consistent goals/plans or do the things necessary to achieve them. Once a parishioner had “the nerve” to put “it” in words as I came to a new parish – “Don’t you be raising any question about the nature of the church until after we make a lot of money on this project.”  “Too heavenly to be of any earthly use.” “What has the Gospel got to do with what we’ve always done in our church!” “Be practical.”

We keep preaching and teaching as though it made some significant difference when recent civil rights legislation enforced should be convincing that “we don’t think our way into new ways of acting, but act our way into new ways of thinking.”

MY LEGACY

MY LEGACY

My mother was a life long teacher and learner. Through United Methodist Women and otherwise, she did a great deal of reading. For years, she participated in the School of Christian Mission sponsored by United Methodist Women, which was recently renamed “Mission U”.

I developed the same habit or tradition, attending such schools as provided in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest Conference. One time I was asked to be a teacher of a class on Christian Social Concerns. One of the students was a person who did not agree with some of my public positions on legislative issues and she took the course with one purpose: “To try and understand why I did what I had done in the political arena of the State of Alaska”. This turned out to be very useful because I eventually became her pastor and she was able to handle that with what I would call a sense of maturity and respect, all because of her decision to try and understand where I was coming from theologically and biblically. Thank you, School of Christian Mission, now Mission U.

While I lived in Alaska and while my mother was still alive, we developed the pattern of writing letters to each other on Saturday evenings. It was a great way to maintain contact and enabled us to share thoughts at a deeper level than occasional phone calls. That opportunity and experience was something I cherished at the time.

I learned a lot about her and she learned a lot about me. My father, on the other hand, was not as comfortable with my life and work, fearing for my life when I took on the “principalities and powers” in various situations. He did not accept the fact that I was just following his example.

Mother would share what she was reading and I would share what I was reading. I miss that in many ways and I am finding that no one in the next two generations are interested in such things. But that is another story. If anyone was interested, I would let them know what I am reading and experiencing in life, even in retirement.

As my own theology has shifted (and hopefully grown), there have been many factors. For years I said that I would focus on interfaith issues when I retired. But that happened earlier when I was asked to teach a college course on “Religions of the World” at Sheldon Jackson College. To prepare for that experience, I did a massive amount of reading on that subject. Got it done before retirement.

In retirement, I have participated in a lot of small group studies, based on books by various contemporary theologians and pastors. For years I said that I wanted to write a book on the subject of universal salvation, a concept that has become very important to my belief system. I did preach it in my last four churches. In fact, a dear friend at the first of those four churches came up to me after one of my sermons and said: “John, we all agree with you. Why don’t you move on to another subject.” Ah, the honesty of family and friends.

But lots of people don’t agree with me. So it is helpful to find others who have lived life and come to the same conclusions that I have reached. In fact, two persons have written a book on this subject that is so good, that I will no longer have to write my book. They have done it for me.  The book is: “If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person” by Philip Gulley (Quaker minister) and James Mulholland (United Methodist and American Baptist).

Once I started preaching this theology, I found that lots of people agreed with me. The first one was an eighty year old woman visiting in Hana, Maui, Hawaii, when I was a one month (March, 1981) pastor there. She shook my hand at the door and said something like: “Young man, you just preached me back into the church.” I never looked back from that point on, though I didn’t shake up my Presbyterian friends in Nome, as I was too close to the end of my time there to work it through with anyone.

East Anchorage handled it well, the folks at Sitka thought “some new ideas would be good for them” so they didn’t veto my coming there and Manito in Spokane eventually got a three sermon series that I published without any kick back.  However, when I came to Stanwood, there was a group that resisted my preaching to the point that they became Free Methodists. But at least I knew they were listening. My views were present in the early church (first 500 years after Jesus), but they were suppressed, some times violently.  Boy, was I born in the right era!  Thanks mother Bernice and father George and God.

As I am writing this in 2015,  I would recommend several books to anyone who wishes to have more understanding of the issues surrounding this theology.

Recommended reading:  “A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story” by Diana Bulter Bass.  She is also the author of “Christianity for the Rest of Us”.  Dr. Diana Butler Bass started out as a Methodist, but is now an Episcopalian.

And if you want to get right to the bottom of the issues and decisions facing modern Christians, try “Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands” by Jennifer Grace Bird.  Part of the glory of this book is that Jennifer was raised with other views and came to her positions through intensive study. She didn’t think women should be pastors, based on what she thought the Bible says, even though her own mother is one. She no longer holds that viewpoint.

Oh, lots of people disagree with me. Some easily assign millions of people to the fires of hell because they just happen to belong to other faith groups than that of Christianity.  Actually, there are some Christians who assign everyone to hell that does not happen to be their brand of Christian. That position has probably caused more people to reject Christianity than any other factor. I have tried to do my part, but my platform has been so small. And the ocean is so very big.

Just to be clear. I believe in hell.  But my position is that it is empty.  Thanks be to God.  Happy Reading. If you know how to reach me, I would even be glad to give you a copy of the book I could have written, given enough time. But Gulley and Mulholland wrote it for me.

TRIBUTES

Tributes

It is a bit self-serving to share positive things that have been written about us, but hey, this is my blog, so I can put what I want here.

From time to time, I have saved unsolicited compliments. Two that come to mind and will be included (if I can find them) came from youth who gave me a difficult time when I was their pastor and their sense of regret, while real, was larger than they needed to make them.

Youth #1 from St. James UMC, Danville, Illinois  (female)   “I showed very little respect for you and what you had to say.  I was a thoughtless child who cared nothing about anyone except myself…”  (then she shared about her spiritual growth through camping experiences.)

Youth #2 from the UMC of Sitka, Alaska (male)  He had moved away and was reflecting on his life experiences:  “I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to any of the Methodist pastors down here. That is why I’m writing to you. You were never an unapproachble pastor, but more of a friend.  I really wish I had come to church to listen instead of screw around with (unnamed here) in the back.”  Story by me:  One Sunday this youth and the unnamed one were sitting in the back row, talking vigorously while I was preaching.  I just stopped and looked at them.  Eventually they realized what I was doing and they stopped.  I don’t remember if I said anything, like “may I continue?” but few knew what was going on.  It did “cure” them for awhile.

Here are some comments that give me more credit than I deserve, but then I didn’t write them.

Sitka Layperson whose family gave me my greatest contact with humpback whales in Sitka Sound. Up close and personal. He turned off his boat motor and we sat in the midst of several whales for several minutes. Awesome.

Dated: August 1, 2002 from Ray, Aporn, Richard and Robert Stein (Seven years after I was their pastor.)

“You are one of the straightest and most decent people I’ve ever met and you’ve had a measurable impact on my life, speech, demeanor to students and family, personal attitudes and more. We all send our very best regards to you and Barbara.”

MY LIFE STORY

My Life Story – Remarks Prepared For and Shared At RUMMS (Retired United Methodist Ministers and Spouses) April 29, 2011

Life is so interesting. One of my retirement “passions” is reading. Very eclectic to say the least. I lucked into a video on “Anne of Green Gables” and became interested in her story.

Then I read the sequel “Anne of Avonlea” and this is what I read on page 125. (Anne is speaking with 3 other women who are on a picnic. All are approximately age 17. Anne is the local schoolteacher. I trust you read these books long ago, but I waited until retirement to do so.)   Note: in 2019 we visited Prince Edward Island and saw the area that inspired the author.  When I showed great enthusiasm at seeing where Anne “lived”, someone gently said:  “You do know that she is a work of fiction, don’t you?”  Darn reality.

“…The real poem is the soul within them, and that beautiful bit is the soul of an unwritten poem. It is not every day one sees a soul – even of a poem.”

“I wonder what a soul – a persons’ soul – would look like,” said Priscilla dreamily.

“Like that, I should think,” answered Anne, pointing to a radiance of sifted sunlight streaming through a birch tree. Only with shape and features, of course. I like to fancy souls as being made of light. And some are all shot through with rosy stains and quivers, and some have a soft glitter like moonlight on the sea, and some are pale and transparent like mist at dawn.”

“I read somewhere once that souls were like flowers,” said Priscilla.

“Then your soul is a golden narcissus,” said Anne, “and Diana’s is like a red, red rose. Jane’s is an apple blossom, pink and wholesome and sweet.”

“And your own is a white violet, with purple streaks in its heart,” finished Priscilla.

Jane whispered to Diana that she really could not understand what they were talking about. Could she?   (end of quote)

Life is interesting. And now I have something with which to answer this question about what a soul would look like. It almost preaches. My mother’s soul is a large, white, white rose.

(Added later: I have no clue as to what my soul would look like. I dabble in raising dahlias, but there is such variety (thousands) that it would be hard to pick one. Perhaps I am a bit like Jane: “I don’t understand what they are talking about!”)

You asked me to tell of my life story and how my faith was formed or informed. Here is the picture I selected to put on the cover of my mother’s life story. She was a wonderful person and she was responsible for helping me in my spiritual formation. She was a person filled with tenderness, compassion for others and curiosity. My father was also responsible for some of my life formation. He was not as wonderful as my mother, but he was a person with a lot of personal integrity and courage. I observed this as he acted within the community where we lived. But he was also hardheaded.

One of the formatives stories surrounded the issue of selling liquor in our town. At some point the pro-liquor folks attacked the home of the pastor by throwing dirt on his front porch. My father got involved, even though we did not live in the town itself. He had a conversation with the pro-liquor folks and when it came time to vote, even those who sponsored the liquor option vote, voted against it. I don’t know what my father said to them, but I think it could be described as “putting the fear of God in them”. I am sure words such as “bringing charges against them for illegal activity” may have been included.

As far as my mother was concerned, I remember a pastor who could not engage in small talk with the members of the church. Perhaps it was shyness. I don’t know the problem. but it was causing problems. Now some people would just work to get another pastor, but not my mother. She invited the pastor for afternoon refreshment several times and without his realizing what was happening, she gave him some practice in small talk. Not giving my mother complete credit, instead of finding another profession, he went on to be a very successful pastor, if becoming a District Superintendent is a sign of success.

So these two characteristics: compassion and personal courage were mixed up in my journey of spiritual formation. They were both useful in the ministry. I could be a very good pastor for people who were hurting, but I could also be difficult for those who wished to keep me silent on a wide variety of issues.

During my earliest years in ministry, I was mentored by pastors at summer camp, teachers in college (Hessert) and seminary, as well as colleagues in ministry. (Leonard Sutton)

My spiritual life was formed in my home and in a very small Methodist Church in Central Illinois. There was a vital youth group with an average attendance of five persons. At an appropriate age, I came to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ at the altar of that same church. I was allowed to serve on the Official Board of the church, so I learned a lot about how the church operates and I still became a minister.

Through Christian camping, I became active in District and Conference programs, attending an United Methodist school known as Illinois Wesleyan University. My image of education was to be deeply involved in the culture of my college and seminary, but it was not to be. In my Junior year of college, I accepted a call to be the Associate Pastor in one of the most difficult appointments in the Central Illinois Conference, working on portions of 3 days a week. Serving a church while attending school continued for five years in two different appointments. It consumed my time and energy on weekends and I missed all of the weekend culture to be found in the college community and in the seminary setting near Chicago.

When I was appointed as the pastor at Wapella as a college senior, one pastor put his arm around me and said: “Don’t worry about blowing it in this appointment, John, as the only way for you to go in this conference is up.” He was implying that I was starting at the bottom. This church celebrated its centennial on my watch. My research revealed that it had had 55 pastors in 100 years. Prior to me, a non-Methodist pastor (who happened to be a Baptist) had preached against Methodism and convinced a majority of the members that Methodism was a communist organization. They voted to leave the denomination. The superintendent allowed them to vote on the motion and then asked for the keys to the building. When the folks realized they couldn’t take the building with them, they were smart enough to move “reconsideration of the previous motion” and stayed in the denomination, but they were not happy. That was my first appointment in Methodism. The church went from 85 members to 60 in my year as pastor with an attendance of 50 persons. Fifteen people who had been participating in other churches were helped to actually transfer their membership to the church they were attending. I saw that as helping them, as well as helping the local church.

At that point in our history, one of my duties was to report to the superintendent the number of calls or contacts I made in the parish. I meekly complied. The total was 900. It was the second highest in my district, only topped by the largest church which had 3,000 members. Ironically, my second appointment was Minister to the Youth at that same large church in Danville, Illinois. I will never know if there was a connection. I worked there with 100 active youth. Occasionally I preached to 600 persons.

Then two traumatic things happened in my journey. I felt a call to missionary service and I fell in love. Barbara and I went together to Alaska in 1962 for three years. Thirty-three years later we left Alaska in 1995 for two appointment in the PNW conference: Spokane:Manito and Stanwood. I retired in 2008.

Alaska provided to be both interesting and stimulating. We started in a parish that was 100 miles long and not very many miles wide, serving three churches. It was there that a pattern developed. I was an effective pastor, so I keep getting appointments. But I was also engaged in controversial social justice ministries. In my first parish, I was blamed or credited with closing down an illegal gambling operation in the area, called Soldotna Progress Days. In anger the leadership of the event closed down the fair, publicly blaming me, because I had exposed their illegal gambling operation to the authorities in the State of Alaska by writing a letter of inquiry. In what became a pattern, state officials would reluctantly follow the laws of the State of Alaska. Look what has happened since I left the State of Alaska. Following the law appears to have gone out of fashion there, based on the number of legislators who have been sent to prison recently. But I digress.

While in my first parish, I served on a hospital board of directors that was so hot politically that the Mayor of my town (Kenai) had resigned from serving to save his political hide. I took his place. Now the process of appointment making is somewhat private, even today. I moved to another church a short time after this. I do not know if there was a connection and all members of the cabinet are deceased, so we will never know. However, in my defense, the usual pattern then was a three-year appointment.

While traveling in South America recently, I got in touch with a pattern to my ministry. Good pastoral care and involvement in tough political issues. At the next church, I became an expert on The John Birch Society. Most of you have heard of this group. Think Tea Party in work clothes! It is fascinating that the money for The John Birch Society and the Tea Party comes from the same family. I also ran as a candidate for the State House of Representatives as a Republican Candidate. Just for the record, I lost the election and I have now become a born-again Democrat, according to former Washington State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, a member of Stanwood United Methodist Church.

The Bishop observed my political activities and appointed me to be the pastor in the State Capital of Juneau, Alaska. In my spare time (my day off), I served as a volunteer lobbyist with the state legislature, working on issues for children and prison inmates, persons for whom no one was paid to lobby. I developed a slight reputation. People would come to me to ask for help. I helped increase the amount of money spent on alcohol abuse problems, plus I became the expert on the issue of abortion reform. Alaska passed a liberal abortion law prior to Roe-Wade and I can take some credit/blame for that.

The road got rockier for me. I was a player in ecumenical affairs statewide. In spite of the breakdown in relationship with some Roman Catholics over the abortion issue, I became President of the Alaska Christian Conference of Churches.

I became the pastor in Nome, Alaska and spent four years as a very wonderful, caring pastor. Then my social justice genes kicked in and with the support of my wife, who was then serving on the Nome Common Council, I tackled the issue of alcohol abuse. All hell broke loose. It started after I conducted a wonderful funeral for a twenty-year-old church participant who had had an argument with her boyfriend and in an intoxicated state she went walking in the tundra without proper clothing. I told Barbara I could do wonderful funeral services for years, but I didn’t want to leave Nome without saying a negative word about the dominant drinking culture that existed there. She gave her consent and the rest became history. (Other blog threads will deal with Nome in depth.)

It is somewhat awkward to tell my story in front of Jack Tuell and Ed Stanton, as they both played a role in my ministry. They can tell their own story and they will and they have.

The appointment process in Alaska changed when I went to Nome. Prior to that time (1974) the Bishop and/or Cabinet just decided and informed the church and pastor what would be happening with the appointments. After that date, there had to be an introduction interviews with the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee and then the appointment would be made (fixed?). Perhaps it would be informative to share how that process went for me at Nome.

When I was flown to Nome for that interview, one person attended the meeting and she was not active in other church activities, like worship. In a normal world, the message about lay involvement would have been clear, but I wanted to stay in Alaska, so I didn’t listen to the message and accepted the appointment in 1974.

You might as well know that Bishop Tuell offered to appoint me to First United Methodist Church in Fairbanks in 1980, but the committee refused to meet with me, with the chair rejecting me based solely on my reputation. I don’t think church leaders are cruel or mean persons, but instead of appointing me to Fairbanks, they appointed the late Richard Heacock as the pastor to Fairbanks. I laughed for two solid days when I learned of that appointment. Talk about poetic justice. Richard Heacock was more radical than me, to say the least. Sadly the church divided, but I was spared that trauma or blame.

When I went to East Anchorage the next year (1981) for that interview, the first question was: “What happened in Nome” So I told them and for the first and only time in my ministry, when I was finished, the committee broke into spontaneous applause. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

In my next appointment (after Nome), I decided to operate in a different way and it worked. For seven year I kept clean. No major public involvements on social issues. No newspaper headlines. I became deeply loved in my local church and community. I supervised a Retreat Center 90 miles from Anchorage. My members thought I was doing church work when I spent a day at the Hope Retreat Center. It was a major shift in my social justice involvements publicly. When the first opportunity came for me to be involved, I gave the instigator $1,000 and told him to make the headlines in the newspaper. It worked. We won the cause and I didn’t get the credit or the blame.

To complete the Alaskan cycle, when I went for the interview in Sitka, Alaska, I started with them (theologically) at the point where I was in leaving East Anchorage. At East Anchorage I was focusing on the inclusive love of God so strongly that one lay person came up to me after a sermon and said: “John, we all agree with you. Why don’t you move on to another subject?” My honesty in the interview at Sitka made the committee think about it overnight. They decided hearing something new and different would be good for them, so those who were hearing something new from me decided to accept me as their pastor. God and the cabinet had saved the best for last in Alaska. Sitka was a wonderful experience for us. We could have stayed there forever, but something inside of me thought it wouldn’t be good for them or me to be there forever, so I was able to transfer to the Pacific Northwest Conference and get an appointment in Spokane.

During my ministry, I divide my work in two sections: 1961-1981 (twenty years of social activism) and 1980-2008 (twenty-eight years of being much more cautious). Even with the concept of guaranteed appointments, I was not paranoid, as there were people “out to get me”. I had better relationships with some people who disagreed with me on my public and private stands on a variety of issues because I didn’t beat people up from the pulpit on a regular basis, just occasionally. People actually came to believe that I respected their opinions, even if they were different from my own…with some exceptions.

What created the difference in my style? I was asked to serve as a pastor for one month in Hana, Hawaii, in March of1981. It started whole new direction for my ministry. It actually helped me to become more honest in my preaching. I started telling theological truth from the pulpit, bringing the best of what I know about biblical and theological scholarship. Five sermons at Hana. (Inclusive gospel, science and religion) The best summary of that experience was an 80 year old woman who slowly came up to me at the door of the church, saying: “Young man, I want you to know that you just preached me back into the church.” Wow! I had waited a lifetime to hear some affirmation like that. Only time in 51 years to hear those words, but it gave me some hope that I was on to something new and powerful. Telling the truth.

I love to tell this next story. When I came to Spokane for the “interview”, I brought my guns with me for storage at the district parsonage. District Superintendent Ruth Mathis was wondering about me at this point. She had told the local church before the required interview that I was OLD and they were shocked to see some one who was still active and vital. I was excited to learn later that Ruth Mathis and I were exactly the same age and I never let her forget it. OLD indeed!

For the most part, staying out of the public eye (newspapers) was my method of operation in my last four appointments. With the exception of getting major (front page) newspaper coverage for a speech on homosexuality near the end of my five years in Spokane, it was a new way of operating. I had learned my lesson.

In some ways I was and am angry about the change in my life in 1981. Several friends gathered to wish me well as I departed from Anchorage to Sitka in 1988. One of them, the late Tom Dahl, inquired about the change he had seen in me and the reality that I had become a popular person. Yes, said I, it is easy to be popular as a minister. Just focus on doing nothing that rocks the boat and you, too, can become popular.

But, less you think I completely caved in, I managed to offend a few people in my old age. When I discovered that the Spokane River was so polluted that pregnant women were advised to stay out of the river, I managed to comment on this reality, only to discover that the lawyer for the polluting industries was a member of my congregation. He refused to listen to me preach ever again and tried to work against me behind the scenes.

At Stanwood, my insistence on using the word “inclusive” alienated one man who was willing to help finance James Dobson’s ministry known as “Focus on the Family”. I soon discovered that several church leaders, including the lay leader, hated the United Methodist Church as a denomination. When they were removed from leadership, they decided to serve God in the Free Methodist Church. I have gotten a great deal of satisfaction in informing people that in my last year of ministry, before I was forced to retire because of the age requirement, 40 persons joined the Stanwood United Methodist Church, with 24 of them joining by Profession of Faith. It was a great way to end my full-time professional ministry.

(The following story was not included in the speech, due to time constraints, but I have chosen to include it here.)

Riley Case is a former District Superintendent in the State of Indiana who writes a lot for the Confession Movement in the United Methodist Church. (A small lobbying group made up of clergy and laity. In my opinion, some of the clergy are frustrated because they couldn’t get elected Bishop and the laity are frustrated because they can not dominate the church.) I have chosen to jab him from time to time as he pontificates that all of the problems in United Methodism are caused by liberals.

He wrote that “progressive Christianity” has never won a following for Jesus. He was commenting on Rob Bell’s new book on hell and he took this opportunity to be critical of United Methodist bishops and pastors who didn’t have his view on hell.

I have chastised him for his generalizations, as this progressive United Methodist pastor (me) received 40 new members in his last year of ministry, with 24 of them being by Profession of Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In response to his last diatribe I wrote to him. “You keep saying this even after I told you that this progressive United Methodist pastor received 40 members in my last year of ministry, a majority by Profession of Faith. Shame on you.”

I continued to write to him:

“I have preached several sermons on ‘hell’ and a vast majority of my members were appreciative of my position. I actually like what one Catholic leader said several years ago: ‘THERE IS A HELL and it is empty.'”

“I just got back from a trip to South America and that was hot enough for me.

“The modern idea of hell dates back to Dante’s inferno. Shows what a powerful work of fiction can accomplish. Saw a depiction of hell in a church in Ecuador. Our guide said that it gave her nightmares as a child, but she is still a faithful Catholic. One poor fellow had his body pierced with seven spears and his tormentor (the inquisition even made it to South America – let’s hope it never makes it to United Methodism) was ready to pour some boiling oil down the man’s throat. They left no stone unturned.

“I must confess that ‘grace’ trumps ‘hell’ in my theology.”

(That was the end of my jab for Riley Case. He was kind enough to respond to this note, though I have not heard from him very often lately.)

“John: Thanks for the response to the Happenings article on hell. I am always willing to consider what you have to say. Most of the response to my stuff is from friendlies and it is not nearly as interesting as the stuff I get from folk like you. I probably am not as rigid on hell as it may seem. I have a lot of questions. If we find out in the end that God saves all, well and good. I will accept that. However, I would rather be wrong about preaching hell when it doesn’t exist than to be wrong about preaching there is no hell when it does exist. Then I would have some answering to do.” (Riley Case)                 -The End of that Correspondence. Back to the Speech.

In retirement, I am doing a lot of volunteer work, centered on a term as Conference Secretary and a position called “Minister to the Retirees”. In addition to this, Barbara and I travel “at the drop of a ticket”. I am trying to read more books and magazines, do some serious gardening and drive people to medical appointments through various agencies, including Catholic Community Services in Everett. (that has ended now) Some of you are aware of Barbara’s work with the Bishop’s Task Force for Hope for the Children of Africa, which supports two orphanages in the Southern Congo. Life is good, as well as interesting.

So we continue. I have long maintained that during the time of retirement that we may do our most effective work through contacting decision makers in our society and letting them know what we think they should do. One thing for sure, I no longer have to deal with the people who pay my salary when I do so.

(Postscript:  This is an added thought. When I was in Nome, doing my best, hardest and most difficult work of my ministry, I also helped start and then served a Presbyterian Church as a Stated Supply. As we jumped through the hoops required with the Presbytery of the Yukon, the Lead Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage came to Nome and I asked him if he worked three times harder than I did.  He was getting three times the inflated salary I was getting in Nome even with a twenty per-cent cost of living adjustment. I sensed he agreed that he wasn’t working three times harder than me. Which leads me to my point: if United Methodist pastors were all paid equal salaries and received the funds directly from the regional entity, a pastor would not have to worry as much about “biting the hand that feeds him”, as far as social positions and activity is concerned. From the very first church in Kenai, Alaska, it was hard to challenge the stewardship level of those individuals who also “set my salary”. Pastors with “inflated salaries” control much of United Methodism in the United States, so I doubt if it changes, but what I am advocating exists in Great Britain. Perhaps, as our denomination gets smaller, there will be more efforts to create equality in compensation. In my example I was getting approximately $20,000 in Nome and the Anchorage pastor was getting $60,000. When I started in Wapella, I was getting $960, then in Danville I received $3,000 and when I graduated from seminary, I received $5,000. When I retired, compensation was close to $40,000.

SCHISM IN THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

Schism in the United Methodist Church

Reflections on and critique of Lyle Schaller’s article in the September/October 1998 issue of The Circuit Rider “Is Schism the Next Step?”  (My basic reaction written in 1998; revised in 2015)

Lyle Schaller asserts, rather forcefully, that the highly centralized polity of this denomination is built on a high level of distrust of local leadership. After reading his article, I respectfully disagree.

The polity of this denomination is built on several things: episcopal system of leadership; the Annual Conference as a central decision making unit; and the local church as an integral part of the Annual Conference.

While there is distrust in many locations, based on personalities and such, I think it is unfair and inaccurate to assert that the system is “built” on that distrust.

As to whether or not schism is in our future, we certainly see schism in our past over a variety of issues:  Pew Rent (Free Methodist Church); Ministry to the Poor (The Salvation Army); Theological Issues (Wesleyan Methodist and The Church of the Nazarene); Slavery (too many to mention, but one is the African Methodist Episcopal Church).

Nothing we are facing now is as important as the slavery issue was. Unless you were there, I doubt if many would be exercised over the issue of pew rent.

Christianity has often been polarized about issues. The very first battle was over the issue of Gentiles: should they become Jews before becoming Christians. That was settled and the church stayed together.

The issues that Schaller identifies are issues upon which sincere Christians have different opinions, but are they enough to justify schism or division? We might as well divide over whether or not the carpet in the sanctuary has tints of red or green, another subject about which people in my local churches had differences of opinion at one time or another.

People argue about the location of announcements in worship: beginning, middle, end or NOT AT ALL. To follow Schaller’s thinking to the ridiculous, we could have the Methodists who believe in announcements and those who don’t. “The Unannounced Methodists” and the “Announced Methodists” and the “Overannounced Methodists.”  (Smile)

Schaller identified the following areas of conflict: Christology, Music, Polity, Biblical interpretation, Apportionments, Multiculturalism, The source of authority, Worship, Evangelism, Ministerial placement, Conference priorities, Theological education and Homosexuality.

The United Methodist Church is not necessarily less attractive today. There are just more options from which one can easily choose, including non-participation. Churches designed to appeal to the various “generations” have been identified in recent years and some are thriving.

Schaller makes little to no mention of the reality that people leave for reasons other than polarization. As I examine the situation in churches I have served, most people leave for other reasons. The reasons vary so much as to require a long list, which might be exhausting, but not exhaustive.

Lyle E. Schaller listed six responses: denial, operational, seeking “common ground”; encourage unhappy people to leave; schism and changing the agenda to focus on evangelism and mission.

His analysis of what is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention over looks the blatant power politics that have effectively suppressed any meaningful dissent.

While there are local churches (we know of two: one United Methodists and one Southern Baptist) that have succeeded in obtaining a big enough majority to leave the denomination and while there are churches under the control of one strong personality or family or clan which would allow withdrawal to succeed, it would be my experience that the majority are not interested in playing that game.

Going back to my original motivation for writing this critique, Mr. Schaller appears to have a strong bias against several things: pluralism, our polity and a premise which I do not accept and he provides no evidence for in this article: “that there is a strong distrust of local (church) leadership”. In my experience, after attending more than 40 local church conferences, even in a church that tried to become Baptist, District Superintendents are very affirming of local church leadership. Consultation was and is alive and well in our system.

Whatever happens, perhaps Lyle E. Schaller, with tongue firmly in cheek, is doing what he does best – trying to stimulate some thinking. If so, I hope it goes in a different direction than he is proposing. It did get him some free press.

Perhaps I need to dust off my own proposal, which The Circuit Rider refused to publish a few years ago. My proposal was to dissolve the United Methodist Church completely, allowing our membership to transfer to other denominations. If done intentionally, we could take over the leadership of several denominations within one year, with the exception of The Southern Baptist Convention. Whether liberal or conservative, we could tip the balance of power in several different denominations, which are also committed to pluralism in one form or another.

Those United Methodists who believe in predestination could become Presbyterians and take over several Presbyterian denominations.

Those United Methodists who believe in speaking in tongues could take over several Pentecostal groups.

Those “high church” United Methodists who appreciate liturgy would have no trouble in taking over the Episcopal Church.

However those who affirm ‘believer Baptism’ would not be strong enough to take over the Southern Baptist Church, but Southern Baptists are so convinced of the truth of their positions that some United Methodists would be quite happy under their roof.

Those United Methodists who believe in service to the poor, while few in number, could take over The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is interest in being a church and they would welcome the fresh recruits for their army.

I know I am leaving out some sub-groups, but before I distribute these ideas very widely, I could dust off my more complete proposal.  (Actually, I don’t know where those are right now.)  written October 9, 1998

(Postscript:  While it is impossible to apologize to Dr. Schaller, he may have been more correct than I thought 17 years ago. When I retired, my wife and I visited 45 different churches. We stayed in the same community where I had been the pastor for eight years and the cabinet asked me to worship elsewhere for one year. We complied with that request. Upon more than one occasion my wife and I commented on the good quality of our experiences, especially in the area of preaching. Some conference leaders communicated disbelief in this possibility. That would be a sign of distrust of clergy leadership.)

In spite of the small minority still pushing for schism, I continue to believe it is a very, very bad idea.

ICELAND 2015

ICELAND 2015

We just returned from spending several days in Iceland.

Why Iceland?  We had stayed there for a couple of days in Reykjavik on a previous trip and wanted to see more of it. Now we have been there twice and still have not soaked in The Blue Lagoon, so we may go again someday.

We traveled with a company called gjtravel  (Gudmundur Jonasson Travel) and were pleased with the experience.  It was called the Grand Tour of Iceland and included the Golden Circle, the Ring Road and the West Fjords area.  Names were very difficult for us, but I will type them in this summary, just to be accurate.  Don’t ask me to pronounce the names.

We went a day early to deal with jet lag and did a few things in Reykjavik prior to the formal tour. We hit some rainy weather and found traveling by taxi was much dryer than walking in the rain without umbrellas.  We did the National Museum of Iceland (near the campus of the University of Iceland), the Saga Museum and a new display of life-sized whales that are found in Iceland, including the giant Blue Whale.  We wanted Barbara’s sister to experience the world famous hot dog and consuming that in a driving rain was not the best experience of the trip, but we did it anyway. Former President Clinton almost created a national incident when he asked for only two items on his hot dog instead of “the works”. Poor intelligence on the part of his handlers. We didn’t make that mistake. We also visited the concert hall with wonderful architecture. It is called the Harpa.

Every day we saw sheep, which are an important part of the economy: think Icelandic sweaters. We saw many Icelandic horses, even getting to pet one, not to mention cattle and chickens and a few dogs.

Agenda:  Day One was getting settled. There is a 45 minute transfer from the Keflavik airport to our Hotel Klettur.

Day Two: We did the Golden Circle tour that includes Gulfoss (with double falls), visited the active geothermal area of Geysir (where Strokkur rises 70 feet every five minutes or so) and finished the day at the ancient Viking Parliament area.  Along the way we saw evidence of fault lines. Before we ended the day we passed through a tunnel under a fjord to reach Borgarfjordur.

Day Three:  We explored the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and went into a Lava Cave made famous by Jules Verne’s science fiction novel about the journey to the center of the earth which goes about 35 meters underground.  We saw lots of lava fields that were formed eons ago. We overnighted in the Grundarfjordur area.

Day Four:  My personal highlight occurred at the westernmost point of Iceland. We got there by ferry and ended at the bird cliffs of Latrabjarg. What did we see?  Lots of birds, including puffins.  They had little fear of humans, so we got lots of close-ups of my favorite bird. The road was rather primitive, but we were blessed with a good driver, so neither of us were anxious.

Day Five:  We drove to the waterfall Dynjandi with its seven levels of plunging.  And we saw lots of beautiful scenery.

Day Six:  We were introduced to a rather authentic replica of the homestead of Erik the Red, the father of Leif-the-Lucky, who was the first European to set foot in North America. I would vote to replace Columbus Day with Eriksen Day. This was the day we were treated to a horse show. We some how ended the day in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city at about 18,000 people. An extra was a whale watching tour in the bay. We saw humpback whales. Our travel companions from Hawaii didn’t take that tour. Akureyri is a beautiful city. If we ever return to Iceland, I would like to spend more time there. We had to rush dinner, so we ate at Subway.

Day Seven: We saw Godafoss Falls, Lake Myvatn, walk in the lava field of Dimmuborgir, climbed to the rim of the ash crator Hverfjall, saw hot springs and bubbling mud pools of Namaskard and experienced geothermal fields. Our substitute for the Blue Lagoon was a good soak in the Myvatn Nature Baths.

Day Eight: We reached the east side of Iceland and experienced Dettifoss waterfall in the northern part of Vatnajokull National Park.  We drove into a remote area and got a view of Herdubreide, referred to as the queen of Icelandic mountains.  So many waterfalls! Fortunately, we have pictures to keep them straight in our minds. We drove to Borgarfjordur Eystri. We were introduced to some elf lore, went to a puffin colony, but only saw one puffin. Most had gone to sea for the winter. We stayed at Guesthouse Alfheimar.

Day Nine: We saw a magnificent (large) stone collection. Then we went to the biggest glacier in Europe, but we didn’t see it because of the weather. We spent a short time riding amongst floating glaciers on the glacier lagoon at Jokulsarion. The night was spent near Skaftafell on the southern part of Vatnajokull National Park. We saw glimpses of some wonderful mountains with glaciers peeking through.

Day Ten:  We were allowed to walk close to a glacial tongue. Then on to a black lava beach and bird cliffs near the village of Vik. (Footnote: a cave here has become famous because Russell Crowe was filmed in this cave for the movie Noah.) We went to the Eyjafjallajokull information center and learned about recent volcanic eruptions. And then we stopped at the Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls.  Walking behind one of the waterfalls was a wet experience, to say the least. Our farewell dinner was in a revolving restaurant known as The Pearl.

We traveled 1,572 miles in the 9 days. That is 2,535 kilometers. Some of the walking activities were too difficult for a couple of our members. After one fall, we were quick to suggest that those individuals not tackle some of our options. If you like dramatic scenery and waterfalls and the creative process, I would recommend the trip. Iceland loves to improve their economy. We had been told we didn’t need any local money. That was true. Our credit card worked everywhere, including the hot dog stand.

On the final day in Reykvajvik, Barbara and I visited The Einar Jonsson Museum (sculpture, paintings and drawings) which we would not have discovered without the help of our guide. And we were lucky to hit a “free day” and qualified to use their restrooms. The Lutheran cathedral does not allow visitors to use their restrooms. We were lucky to be able to listen to a visiting choir practice for their concert in the cathedral.

The Gospel According to Abbie Jane Wells

“The Gospel According to Abbie Jane Wells” Friends of Abbie Jane Wells in Juneau succeeded in getting some of her writings published.  Abbie Jane was a very unique person. She wrote out articles and some of her thoughts in long-hand and then sent them to some of her friends and correspondents.  At one point in time I had an apple box full of material she had written or copied and sent to me on a regular basis. She was not bashful about challenging the “powers and principalities” and she affirmed those with whom she agreed.  Perhaps the best way is to share some thoughts of those who wrote about her.

TRIBUTE by Virginia Breeze dated 3/28/91  “Remembering Abbie Jane Wells”

“In the evenings when all the rest of us were going to bed, Abbie Jane Wells would begin copying. Sitting at her kitchen table, she would gather her materials together – primarily articles and poems but also letters she had received from other people – and in longhand, using a red ballpoint pen (with carbons inserted between sheet of tablet paper so that she could produce more than one copy) she would write all night and into the morning. “When the mailman came she was ready with a bundle of envelopes. Every day she was ready with envelopes, for copying the comments of others who wrote about matters she herself found meaningful and thoughtful, and then passing this information along to people on her “list” was Abbie Jane’s vocation… “Daniel Berrigan was perhaps the most famous of Abbie Jane’s pen pals. The activist Catholic priest…became family to Abbie Jane…There were others, too… “In 1980 Daniel Berrigan spoke in Juneau, an event that became a highlight in Abbie Jane’s life because she was finally able to meet him and to exchange with him the thoughts and ideas they had shared on paper. He gave her a large silver cross and she wore it every single day thereafter. Causes that concerned him and involved him she took up afterward with increased passion….

(Personal note: I was a pastor in Nome at this time and sadly was not able to be in Juneau for this visit of Daniel Berrigan, but I did mention the event in the worship bulletin, just in case any of my members or attenders might be in Juneau on that day. Nome was 1,000 air miles from Juneau.  Just before the benediction, one of my members stood up and said that he was offended that this announcement was in the bulletin. He felt that Daniel Berrigan should be in prison.  (He often was.) When he was finished a young adult male stood up and said that he was offended by these negative comments. He affirmed that Daniel Berrigan was a personal hero to him and to many of his generation. I shared a benediction and one of the women in the church, who obviously loved conflict, said: “We ought to do this more often.”  We didn’t.)

“When Abbie Jane wasn’t copying the words of others, she wrote homilies, most often thoughts with spiritual overtones. They often began, “What if Jesus had…” and she’d go on to suggest in her own homespun style new conclusions to biblical stories. ..In 1985 these homilies became a hardback book called “The Gospel According to Abbie Jane Wells.”

SEARCHING FOR A VIEW

One of my goals in finding retirement housing has been a good view.  We don’t spend much time on water, but enjoy seeing water from my favorite chair in front of the picture window in the living room.  I don’t want to climb mountains anymore, but both of us enjoy seeing them in their different shapes and moods.

When my wife and I were searching for a retirement area inside or outside of Alaska, we were drawn to places with good views.  After searching up and down the coast of Northwest America from Vancouver, British Columbia, to the sand dunes of the Oregon Coast, we finally focused on and purchased a home on Whidbey Island. It had great views of the shipping lanes into Seattle, as well as the backdrop of the Olympic mountains. The end of the story is that one time, while traveling from that home near Coupeville to Everett, I sat in a ferry line for three hours. I got a good book read, but I also decided to sell the house and live somewhere where I didn’t have to depend on ferries to travel to Seattle.

Now that we live in Stanwood, we still have traffic issues on Highway I-5, but have not yet sat three hours in backed up traffic.  One hour, but not three hours.  This is a matter of luck, because there have been even longer waits due to serious accidents. One has to plan ahead when traveling on the I-5 corridor.

We would have enjoyed a home with a view of Mt. Rainier or Mt. Baker, but we have enjoyed the Olympic mountains now for nearly ten years. Part of this obsession seems to relate to the fact that most of our Alaskan parsonages, while close to terrific views, rarely had such views from the living room windows. One exception would have been the Douglas parsonage, but we never lived there. But it did have a view. We were already comfortably settled in the Juneau parsonage. Perhaps, if I had known what was ahead, I would have urged us to reconsider our negative decision on living there. Too late now.

Side story:  We rented the Douglas parsonage and saved the rent money to upgrade the parsonage for our successors. It is okay that none of them ever thanked me. At the time, it was just added to the issues of disagreement with a portion of the leadership of the Douglas Church. When a renter complained that there was no heat for the second floor bedroom, I passed that word on to the trustees and all I remember is that some expressed anger, suggesting that either the renter or yours truly was lying.  “Why,” said one, “we have had several pastors live there with children and they never once complained.” So I embarked on a research project and checked with former pastors.  All of them agreed that it had been a problem, but obviously, none of them had complained. Perhaps, they knew better than to complain. I not only complained on behalf of the renters, I thought it was taken care of.  Having visited there recently, it probably need more work. Not my problem anymore.

Back to the general theme. Consistently, church leaders built parsonages as cheaply as possible and that doesn’t include view property. The one that bugged me the most was Sitka. Knock-out view and trees blocked it. A cooperative neighbor gave me permission to cut some branches and we got a peek-a-boo view of Mt. Edgecumbe from our living room window.

At Stanwood, the parsonage was built on the flood plane with zero view.  The neighborhood is now zoned as commercial. Selling it would have been very controversial, as some members who built it with their own hands would have been personally insulted. I tried to find a willing buyer at a high-end price, but there were no takers.

Now I think I will go to the living room of our current home and enjoy the view of the Olympics. When we move to a retirement home, we will again return to no mountain views.

And given my current views of the subject of life after death, there may be no views in my future.

We are now (2018) living in a retirement home in Auburn, WA. It is called Wesley: Lea Hill. We are one-half mile from a view of Mt. Rainier, but we have started a tradition of driving around the mountain once each summer. In 2018 we also stayed at the Paradise Inn on July 4th and missed (not at all) the fireworks of Auburn, both legal and illegal. We missed 2017 because of the smoke from forest fires in Canada and Washington.

HAWAII

HAWAII

Hawaii has played a special role in our lives.  We have been there many times in many difference capacities.

1968 WESTERN JURISDICTIONAL CONFERENCE

We went to Alaska as Home Missionaries in 1962 and we were disenfranchised in the United Methodist Church, as far as the laity were concerned. Clergy were from “somewhere” and we could participate there.  However, we were granted voice, without vote in the Western Jurisdictional Conference. I found myself in the running for the clergy position in 1968.  When I found out the meeting would be in Honolulu, I embraced the possibility. I bribed the spouses, promising them flowers (lei) if they could get their husbands to vote for me. I was running neck and neck with a former superintendent and the person who recruited me for work in Alaska: Dr. Fred McGinnis. He was then President of Alaska Methodist University. I found out he would be going anyway, so that was another reason not to withdraw in his favor. One would never know, but I don’t think he was pleased to see me competing  against him for this position. Eventually, he withdrew in favor of Dr. Shaffer. The sarcasm seemed obviously to me. No sooner than I was elected, I found that I had a task. Advocating for Alaska to have its own bishop. I gave it my best shot and didn’t get a single vote. Part of the reason was that Bishop Gerald Kennedy ridiculed the idea from the chair. Later in life, I would have challenged him for his completely inappropriate behavior, but then I just took it in stride, complaining privately.  Later I learned that Bishop Kennedy summarized his four years of leadership in Alaska with the statement:  “It was cold in Alaska.”  I also learned that during his four years in Alaska, he presided over the Annual Meeting two times. That would have been good material to use in challenging him for his poor stewardship as a bishop of Alaska.

After the meeting, we took a tour with many other people under the leadership of Dr. Frank Butterworth, the superintendent of the Methodist work in Hawaii.  We dined in ethnic churches in Oahu, Maui, Hawaii and Kauai.  It was a good introduction to Hawaii.

MELVIN AND MARIAN DADD and HILO on the Big Island of Hawaii

In retirement, Barbara’s parents spent time in Hilo, on the island of Hawaii, known as the Big Island every winter. They had a standing offer with their children: you get yourself to Hilo and we will take care of your room and board. We took advantage of that several times, including February 19-28, 1985, when we also went to Kailua-Kona. Our favorite restaurant was Leung’s Chop Suey House in Hilo. The four of us could eat 3 entrees and give a generous tip for $20.00.  A couple of years ago Barbara and I returned and we could eat 2 entrees and give a generous tip for $20.  We also got to see the generations grow up and take over the business.

The Dadd’s also treated us to a helicopter trip over the lava flows and eruptions. Awesome.

HANA, MAUI

When Barbara was the Special Assistant to the Governor of Alaska, her first supervisor was Lowell Thomas Jr.  He and Tay Thomas had a cabin at Hana. Western Airlines had a triangle fare. You could fly from the west coast to Alaska via Hawaii for $15 extra. Barbara arranged to stay in their cabin and she visited the local Congregational pastor in Hana, learning about their minister of the month program. Pastors could serve for one month with home and car provided. All the pastor had to do was pay the airline fare. I applied. The church said it would be a five year wait.  No problem.  There was an opening in March 1981 and they asked if I wanted to take it.  I did.  I was in my last year in Nome and I felt the need for a break before getting on with the rest of my life.

We were there for five weeks. I learned how to swim in a heated swimming pool at a nearby resort. And I tested some new techniques in preaching. When an 80 year old woman from California (staying at the resort across the street from the church) shook my hand at the door leaving church and said: “Young man, you just preached me back into the church.” I felt I was onto something and I never looked back.

One of our highlights was leaving a chicken wish bone on the guest room bed to dry. Soon I discovered millions of tiny ants marching down the cover, to the wall and then outside we could see them moving this food up a tree. Where it went from there I do not know. We removed the source of food and invited them to leave.

My responsibilities including preaching five Sundays, conducting a Thursday evening Bible Study and opening the church building every morning at 7 p.m. At one Bible Study, a centipede crawled into a woman’s sandal and was so distraught that it was the end of the Bible Study for her (and us). When we found cockroaches in our kitchen, the trustees suggested we leave for a day and the house was “treated”.  We were grateful.

Many people know that Charles Lindbergh decided to die in Hana. He is buried at Palapaia Ho’omau Church Cemetery in Kipahulu. (see more details later in this series of articles)  When it was my time to preach there, Anne Morrow Lindbergh let it be known that she would prefer the lay pastor, so we sat behind her and some members of her family.

One Sunday Lowell and Tay Thomas came to church with her father, Sam Pryor, former vice-president of Pan American airlines and a builder of airfields in North Africa during World War II. He had pet gibbons.  Occasionally they came to church with him, but that Sunday the gibbon had misbehaved, so he had to stay in the car. I will never know if my preaching would have impressed the gibbon or not. These gibbons are also buried (with tombstones) very close to where Charles Lindbergh is buried. Some locals were not pleased. Access to this cemetery is not easy. The traffic bothered these same locals and signage is lacking.

The church realized that the “Minister of the Month” program was not good for pastoral relationships and they were planning to call a pastor. We were slightly tempted to apply, though it would have meant a great reduction in compensation. When we decided we would not apply, Barbara attempted to give them a lesson in reality, but we don’t know if we succeeded. When we mentioned money for books, the representative of the church pointed out that the parsonage had a library.  Some library. It had six (or was it twelve?) copies of James Michener’s “Hawaii”.  They seemed to be more interested in a chaplain than in a pastor.  But they eventually struck pay dirt when they called Rev. Edith Wolfe as their pastor.

I was so impressed with her sermon summaries in the church newsletter that we arranged to visit Hana again in March of 1987, just to hear her preach. When we introduced ourselves to her, she requested that I preach, but when I explained why we were there, she did preach. Termites threatened the future of the church roof and she organized the raising of $400,000 to replace the roof and upgrade the building. Her ashes are buried in the grave yard at Hananalua Church in Hana. A remarkable woman in her own right.

We visited once more in 2012 in November to celebrate my 75th birthday. The grounds were upgraded and the church continues to make its witness in Hana, Maui, Hawaii. We stayed at Waianapanapa State Park. We enjoyed the food trucks that seem to be a feature of the town now.

WRITTEN SUMMARY OF OUR MARCH 1981 EXPERIENCE IN HANA:  “ONE MONTH IN HEAVENLY HANA”

The village of Hana is not far from the main airport on Maui, but the route is one of the more famous, for one has to travel up and down the coast around 450 curves and over 54 bridges. T-shirts proclaim “I survived the road to Hana”. Portions of it are just wide enough for two Volkswagons to pass comfortably. Otherwise, one has to pull over and stop or swerve at just the right time.

At the beginning of this century, the land around Hana was producing sugar cane, but supply costs made this difficult, so the area was purchased by one person and turned into a picturesque cattle ranch. Perhaps one of the more poignant stories involves the individual given the responsibility of killing the grass in the sugar cane fields. For years he supervised this task. Just prior to his retirement, his last duty as to plant grass for the cattle.

The local economy is not good, but the other basic industry is found at the Hana Maui, a luxury resort or as they describe it on a brochure: “Thoughtfully informal luxury in Old Hawaii.” They have avoided the high rise mentality of portions of the island and the surf swimming and viewing is among the best in the islands. One of the church members there gave us a pass to the hotel’s heated swimming pool, so that occupied a portion of each day.

One of our tourist trips took us to the top of 10,000 Hakealakia Crater, with lovely views down into the 3,000 foot deep crater. Last year they experience 40 inches of rain on portions of this Crater in three days, with resultant stoppage of travel in several areas.

Issues facing many of the islanders are similar to Alaska: land-use planning provides debates between those who wish more parks and those who are happy with what exists; native Hawaiians are struggling with issues of land claims, too; a growing crime rate in the larger cities is also a major concern.

Hawaii is a good place to relax and soak up some sun. No worry about freeze-ups, but there were plenty of little bugs to make food storage interesting. We learned that someone had imported mongooses to kill rats and both have flourished, for rats sleep all day and mongooses sleep all night – they have yet to meet one another. We didn’t meet any rats either, but there were plenty of mongooses around – pleasant animals that reminds me of ground squirrels.

Hawaii has lots of flowers and fresh fruit. We were there in their winter, so some fruits were out of season, but we enjoyed visiting a pineapple plantation and observing some of the activities in harvesting sugar cane.

The church we served for the month was built in 1938 – took 20 years of work with lava rock and coral. The size of the congregation was small, with lots of tourists at each service. All in all, a most pleasant experience.

UNITED METHODIST WOMEN

The United Methodist Women Quadrennial Jurisdiction meeting was held in Honolulu in April of 2008 when Barbara was President of the Core Planning Group. I got to go with her when she did some of the needed negotiations with the hotel. We were treated to a $75 steak meal by the staff of the Sheridan Waikiki.

I also went for the meeting, climbing 763′ Diamond Head Crater for the first time and just enjoying the experience. Sadly, I had an allergic reaction to something and I had to stay out of the sun. But I got to see a giant green turtle from our suite. Swimmers were unaware of how close they were.

FRIENDS

We were invited to Molokai to stay with friends in 2011.

We were treated to a free time share condo on Kauai, also in 2011 and again by friends. We included Barbara’s sister.

We will go to Hawaii “at the hint of a ticket” and recent trips have taken advantage of introductory offers on Alaska Airlines from Bellingham to new airports on the various islands.

TRIPS

We have gone to Hawaii twelve times.  As I said, we like Hawaii, though I would not want to live there.  Bugs are part of life and the weather is so predictable except when there are strong winds or tidal waves. They do occasionally experience hurricanes or tropical storms or cyclones. We prefer some changes in the length of the days as we experience them in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t think I want to be there in a storm.   Summary:  1968 (Western Jurisdiction Conference) to four islands; 1976 Barbara to Hana; 1978; 1981 at Hana; 1985 Hilo with Dadd’s; 1987 Hilo with Dadd’s and Hana; 1992  Last Dadd trip to Hilo; 2006 Oahu; 2008 Western Jurisdiction UMW on Oahu; 2011 Molokai; Hilo and Oahu; 2011 Kauai at a condo loaned to us by a friend (new route from Bellingham); 2012 John’s 75th birthday on Maui (new route from Bellingham;

MOLOKAI

We have been there twice, but have yet to visit the leper colony at Kalaupapa.  Our second trip was in 2011 with friends. We were planning to take the trip down the ridge on horses (mules), but the price discouraged us. Life there is very laid back, as advertised. The island provides an example of successful efforts at slowing down development. A very rich corporation wanted to do certain things to their property and the locals were successful in blocking them. In response, they shut down their entire operation (perhaps as a form of punishment). The locals did not feel punished, though I didn’t talk to anyone who lost employment.

LINDBERGH Connection

This connection is in Hana, Maui, Hawaii, located at the end of a road with 600 curves.

Years ago in a place far, far away, Barbara Dadd Shaffer held the position of Special Assistant to the Governor of the State of Alaska. One of her colleagues was the Lt. Gov. named Lowell Thomas Jr. he was married to Tay Pryor Thomas.

Her father, Sam Pryor, was Vice-President of Pan-Am Airlines during and after World War II. Charles Lindbergh was on the Board of Directors of Pam-Am. Sam Pryor purchased a large estate on Maui in Hawaii and he allowed Charles Lindbergh to purchase a portion of his estate for a vacation home.

When Lindbergh was dying he insisted on returning to Hana for his death and burial. He wanted to escape the glare of media attention during the dying process and after his death. he was buried in a small cemetery next to a rural Hawaiian Congregational Church.

Immediately after his death a small tourist industry was created by persons visiting that gravesite. One thousand people per day on an average, which pleased the service station owners, but not all of the locals, who felt their remote piece of paradise was being invaded.

Barbara learned two thing:

1. Lowell and Tay Thomas also had a vacation home near the Pryor Estate.

2. Western Airlines had a triangle fare from the West Coast to Alaska via Hawaii. This meant one could travel to Hawaii for approximately $30 over regular Alaska-West Coast fares.

So she was bold enough to ask Lowell if she could use his “cabin” for a vacation trip on one of her church business trips to the “Lower 48” as we affectionately call the rest of the country. The cabin was located in the middle of a cow pasture, which might be another story.

She visited with the pastor of the main Congregational Church (professional courtesy sort of thing) and learned that the pastors of this parish served one month at a time. They recruited pastors under a sort of “pastor of the month” plan and had been doing so for several years. When she returned to Nome and told me the details, I immediately applied for this opportunity. The committee leader discouraged me, saying they had a three-year waiting time. I responded that we liked to plan ahead, so please put us on the list. They did. A short time later they called to indicated that they had an opening for March of 1981 and we were able to go.

While there, we visited the cottage where Lindbergh lived while waiting to die. It was the guesthouse of one of the members. We had lunch with Sam Pryor and Tay and Lowell Thomas (they were there on vacation, too). And one Sunday afternoon, we worshipped at the rural church (a lay speaker was scheduled for the service that day at Palapala Ho’omau Congregational Church) and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and two of her children were in attendance. She was very gracious. We also visited the burial site nearby. The grave marker has the words of Psalm 139:9 “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.” Thus ends our Lindbergh connection.